Service Learning

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Increasing Student Motivation in Science
Through the Integration of Service Learning Projects

Keri Shedden

Graduate School of Education, Brooklyn College, Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, New York

December 10, 2011

Abstract: This study will focus on the problem of decreasing student motivation towards the life sciences within the urban school district. Student engagement and motivation will be promoted through the integration of service learning projects into the curriculum. The success of the community service component of the course will be identified through the observations and data that are received through an action research study that is implemented at an urban high school. Community service projects that are relevant to the course content foster student experiences that make scientific concepts more meaningful and relevant. When a student feels a personal connection to the subject, levels of motivation will naturally increase as well as a responsibility to comprehend the subject matter at a deeper level. The results of this study did indicate that active participation and intrinsic learning were indeed an outcome of a curriculum based service-learning project. Not only were motivation levels elevated but academic performance also increased. In a society that is experiencing a decline in scientific literacy, this study demonstrated the usefulness of community service projects as a useful tool for delivering science content in a meaningful manner to the student body of an urban school.

There are many obstacles within the urban school district that prevent educators from creating a meaningful learning experience for students in the science classroom. The environment of the urban community alone makes it difficult for students to find relevance or make connections to the ecological content of the biology course. How does an educator motivate a student to understand the importance of recycling lawn clippings when the majority of them have only played on concrete? There are also many cultural barriers such as ESL constraints and differing values towards science that make it hard for an educator to present the content in a way that allows for students to personally connect to it. According to Andrew Furco in his contribution to the annual Growing to Greatness report, “if students do not connect with the subject matter or engage themselves in the learning process, they are unlikely to achieve” (2007). Finally, there are many factors from outside the classroom that can further conflict with student motivation. Students that are faced with hunger, depression, or poor family and peer relationships show a decline in motivation and their ability to focus and concentrate on mental tasks (Woodward and Ferguson 2000). While these issues exist in all communities they are more prevalent in urban communities further increasing the gap of academic achievement between these students and those from more rural communities. Students in an urban society often only see the world through the lens of the neighborhoods that they live in, the social networks they have formed, and the norms they are accustomed to. Service learning will provide the necessary opportunities for students to be exposed to new environments that will broaden their horizons and view of the world (Furco 2007).

The underlying educational philosophy that promotes service learning can be traced back to John Dewy and Jean Piaget. Both of these philosophers believe that true learning can only occur when students are actively involved and when a clear purpose is defined (Billig 2000). Integrating community projects into discipline specific subject matter gives students an opportunity to apply abstract science concepts to ordinary social situations. Even if students do not seek a science related career, it is important to increase their scientific literacy so they can feel more connected to society as a whole. According to the National Commission on Youth, this...
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